RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Tens of thousands of workers under the authority of Gov. Roy Cooper (D) will need to get the COVID-19 booster to remain in compliance with his order that they either get vaccinated or tested weekly.
As the omicron variant leads to record-setting case numbers in North Carolina, Cooper plans to amend his executive order to include the booster, citing the added protection it provides.
“And, we’ll keep our foot on the gas when it comes to getting more shots and more boosters administered,” Cooper said. “Really, being up to date on your vaccination means getting boosted.”
CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday the definition of being “fully vaccinated” will not change to include the booster.
Instead, the CDC has updated its recommendations to say that getting the booster if you’re eligible means that you’re “up to date” on your vaccinations. Click here to view.
“Individuals are considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19 if they’ve received their primary series. That definition is not changing,” Walensky said. “We are now recommending that individuals stay up to date with doses they are eligible for.”
According to the NC Office of State Human Resources, about 53,000 state workers in Cabinet-level agencies are subject to Cooper’s order.
Among them, 77 percent are already fully vaccinated, which is up from 60 percent in mid-September. OSHR said 18 employees have been fired for failing to comply with the vaccination/testing requirements.
It’s not clear when the booster requirement will take effect. Cooper said he was awaiting action by the CDC and that there would be a “ramp up” time for employees who had not received the booster already to make an appointment to do that.
“I think the 77 percent vaccination rate right now shows that state employees are pretty much getting vaccinated without a whole lot of hoopla,” said Ardis Watkins, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina. “Our phones will ring when there is a big issue in state government, and they are not ringing over this.”
Watkins said the biggest challenge remains in the state’s prisons where the Department of Public Safety says about 61 percent of workers are fully vaccinated. By comparison, 70 percent of adults across North Carolina are fully vaccinated, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.
“This has had a one-two punch effect on our prisons, and they are desperately short of staff,” said Watkins. “They’re understaffed in the first place. There’s a lot of vacancies. So, when people have to stay to cover somebody else’s shift, eventually you’ve got those folks working too many hours.”
DPS spokesman John Bull said the agency is offering a $500 bonus to employees who get the vaccine.
Offenders also can receive incentives for getting the booster shot, such as additional visitation time or TV time. Bull said about 33 percent of them have received the booster in addition to their initial vaccinations.